What started as a guitar lesson from a nun in grade school has led a former Chicagoan to a professional music ministry and now top billing at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life during the 2016 National March for Life activities in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22.
PJ Anderson, a Catholic singer and songwriter residing in Nashville, was the featured entertainer at the rally and Mass at the Verizon Center on Jan. 22, prior to the march. The rally, the largest Washington archdiocesan event, attracts 30,000 youth from around the country.
“I’m honored and humbled,” said Anderson, 36, who has taken youth to the March for Life on several occasions. “It’s such a blessing to be part of something so close to my heart. I’m excited to be with 30,000 kids standing up for life. It’s going to be beautiful.”
Anderson learned to play guitar from Sister Charita in fifth grade and continued his music, starting a band in college.
After serving as a youth minister at his home parish in St. John, Indiana, Anderson moved to Chicago, where he worked with parish youth and he worked on his music.
Living in Chicago from 2005 to 2012, Anderson performed at House of Blues, Schubas, Martyrs, the Double Door and the Elbo Room.
“I loved it,” Anderson said of life in Chicago. “A lot of my friends lived there, and I met my wife there.”
A resident of Roscoe Village on the North Side, Anderson maintained his music ministry, but he felt something was missing.
“I wasn’t hearing the message God was playing in my heart. I wasn’t listening to the Lord,” he said. “I was starting to take music serious and I finally took to what God was calling.”
With greater opportunities available in Nashville, Anderson and wife, Rachel, made the move in 2012. While touring an average of 200 days a year, he has released four albums, with a fifth, “Mercy, Mercy,” scheduled for release in June.
The first single from the album, “Love Will Heal,” is being released in January and he sang at the youth rally.
Anderson admits the naming of the album and Pope Francis’ proclamation of the Jubilee of Mercy are a coincidence. Once Anderson learned of the papal announcement and work on the album proceeded, however, Anderson knew he was producing something with a timely message.
“God created us for love,” the singer-songwriter said. “The world God created does not involve hatred or racism or violence. God can’t wait to show us how to live and how to die to be with him in eternity.”
“Love Will Heal,” a song Anderson wrote with his wife, is intended to encourage hope and love in a culture that often treats life as disposable.
“We need to rally our voices together as one voice against violence, racism, abortion, terror attacks and bullying. I know so many kids who struggle with being bullied,” Anderson said. “Only love can change hearts. No laws will change until we change through love, sharing God’s love within us.”
Anderson, who has performed at the 2013 and 2015 National Catholic Youth Conferences and has led worship at the Catholic Heart Work Camp the past six summers, hopes young people attending the Washington events take something home.
“I hope they continue to stand up for life, not just once a year or at big events,” Anderson said. “I hope they make their faith a part of their everyday lives and let the love of Christ shine through them.”
Maybe the secret to working at the same parish for 50 years is starting as a teenager. That worked for Debbie Titus, who celebrated a half-century of music ministry at Santa Maria del Popolo Parish in Mundelein at a special Mass Oct. 2.
Eric Campos did not really want to join the Spanish Mass choir at St. Bede the Venerable Parish more than a decade ago. His daughter Giselle did, though, so he would drive her to choir practice and wait for it to end. It wasn’t long before the choir director, Benny Rios, invited him to participate.
Pro-life supporters from Illinois and across the Midwest gathered on Federal Plaza Jan. 8 to rally, listen to speakers and participate in March for Life Chicago, a procession down Michigan Avenue to the Chicago Hilton, and 720 S. Michigan Ave.